Soddisfatta - Satisfied
Winter in New Zealand left me cold and hollow, with appetite for little else but turning up the heat. After less than a week of Italian summer, I’m warm and sated. Full of pasta, bread and gratitude. Sono soddisfatta. Sono sazia. I’m satisfied. And full.
We stayed with our former exchange student, Sofia. Her parents’ three-story house was built in 1928 in the shadow of a church whose bells toll each half hour. The village of 1000 people sits north of Milan. Sofia’s dad, Bob, fetched us from the airport, setting the tone for five and-a-half days with the Franchinis. Rather than play the role for which I’m self-taught --floundering tourist -- I was, instead, housed, fed and driven to interesting places. Spoiled. Viziato.
Maya Angelou said people will forget what you said and did, but will never forget how you made them feel. For me, it’s the same with place. I might blank out this excursion or that monument, but emotion about a location and its people is a lasting souvenir. The feeling I have about the start of our European trip is one of contentment and of being care-taken. That sense borders on strange when you’re custodian and chauffeur to two busy, needy kids. Thankfully, it’s possible to loosen your grip and relinquish the illusion of control, just as it’s possible to laugh after swilling liquid resembling lemonade, which is, in fact, limoncello – alcohol. It burns slightly when mistaken for yellow sugar water.
For our first lunch, Sofia’s mom, Alessandra, serves pasta shaped like olive leaves bathed in pesto and olive oil. Tiny flakes of fresh parmesan fall like snow as I grate a thin blanket of cheese. I inhale aromas of basil and olive oil as the first bite enters my mouth. The final group of leaves requires a fork chase. I’m victorious in the end, spearing each slippery leaf until the bowl is bare.
Meals are capped off with espresso and fruit. After devouring a heaping bowl of carbohydrates accompanied by Gorgonzola cheese, there’s still room for an apricot. Maybe two. My appetite, apathetic the past few months, has emerged from hibernation announcing she’s ready to party. Something else has happened – my watch reports an average resting heartrate in the 40s. It had flirted with 60 back home. I’d like to think olive oil and wine are miracle health boosters, when in reality, going on holiday and having few responsibilities likely deserve credit.
We visit Milan’s enormous Duomo, waiting in a 30-minute queue in 30-degree (86 Fahrenheit) heat. Another former exchange student, Vittoria, who travelled from Turin to meet us, buys candles for Fiona and Finley inside. “Who did you light them for?” I ask, knowing the answer. Daddy. A trickle forms in the corner of my eye. The kids performed the same ritual eight years ago, when I brought them around the world the first time, lighting candles from Paris to Melbourne.
Nearly as impressive as the more than six centuries-old Milan cathedral was Finley’s lunchtime feat. He stuffed down an entire margherita pizza, working out from the center. Hand motions and deep breathing conveyed the image of a maestro at work.
|Yes, he ate the whole thing.|
Finn takes turns annoying and entertaining us with his riff on an advertisement he created for a fictional product delivering “naturally curly hair.” He delivers commentary in a British accent, so the script sounds like “CAH-lee hey-ah”
As an aside, I do not recommend sitting across from Finley on a train from Italy to Switzerland. The scenery you’ve been looking forward to – the Alps – will be punctuated by “OOH-OOH-OOH…” and you’ll stop gazing at mountains to tell Finn to CUT IT OUT.
Another aside- do not read stories about young Thai soccer players trapped in a cave writing heartfelt messages to their parents while on the train because you might start crying.
Let’s talk pizza. Italian, wood-fired pizza with bubbled, smoke-flavored crust. We visit a lakeside pizzeria at Lago Monate, which our hosts tell me is the cleanest of local lakes. Pizzas are preceded by Mojitos – large, minty, not-too-sweet. I order pizza with zucchini, pancetta and shrimp. Fiona gets cherry tomatoes with a large egg of fresh mozzarella in the middle. Finley’s pizza is layered with pancetta, close enough to bacon for his meat lover’s heart. I drink red wine with my meal and the kids and I share a small cup of tiramisu, which means I get two bites. It’s okay, as I couldn’t finish my pizza. Sono sazia.
We tour a monastery built into a cliff bordering Lago Maggiore called Santa Catarina del Sasso, whose walkway is lined with wisteria; and Borromeo castle, with its astonishing collection of cute and creepy dolls.
The highlight of one lunch alongside Lago Maggiore is the view and a crisp, pale beer served in a wine glass. While I love gnocci, I learned I do not adore it painted with turmeric sauce. I finish Finley’s tomato sauce version instead. Fortified by food, the kids and I jump from Bob’s sailboat into the lake, cooling off after a day baking in sunshine.
|Next time, tomato sauce|
|Jumping into Lago Magggiore|
On land in Laveno, we enjoy gelato which Fiona pronounces “best ever.” My two scoops – chocolate and American cheesecake, are rich and flavorful, caressing my taste buds before slip-sliding down my throat into a celebrating stomach.
We enjoy most dinners outside, in view of the pool or a World Cup soccer match on a TV which has been turned to face the outside. Our first dinner, eaten at 9pm, is barbequed spare ribs and sausages. Another night, it’s baked chicken with peppers and onion; the following evening melon, prosciutto and broccoli, and on our last night in Comabbio, pasta shaped like braided ropes –strozzapretti. “I hope you don’t mind pasta again,” says Alessandra. Not a bit. Neither do I mind crusty bread or wine – Italian whites which taste of summer and satiety. The only spoilers at our post-8pm meals are mosquitos, who feast on us as we dine. By morning, my welts have mostly disappeared, though Fiona’s linger for days.
|Dining al fresco|
Our final meal is a hasty lunch before catching our train. “You don’t want to eat the food on the train,” says Alessandra. “It’s expensive, and it’s horrible.” She and Sofia prepare butterfly pasta mixed with last night’s sautéed zucchini. I make time for toast. Fruit can wait.
|Alessandra and Fiona|
When we’re not en route to a train, we have time between dinner and dessert for discussion – about Sofia’s time at university in England; about politics; about the region and travel abroad. Conversation becomes nightcap, when there’s no drive home later, no morning commute to work. Maybe I have room for a piccolo limoncello. This time, on purpose. Sono soddisfatta.